David Blumenthal to Resign as Director of the Office of the National Coordinator of HIT (ONC)


Blumenthal Calls It Quits

Dr. David Blumenthal, who has pushed the country's health care providers to give up paper files in favor of electronic medical records, announced Thursday that he is stepping down as the country's de facto health IT czar after almost two years on the job. He will return to Harvard University, according to news reports.

Blumenthal served as National Coordinator for Health IT during a period of tremendous change. In 2009, Congress allocated billions of dollars to expand the Office of the National Coordinator's authority and to make available incentive funds intended to encourage mass adoption of electronic medical records. The first of those incentives payments were disbursed recently.

... Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, writing in a memo obtained by Kaiser Health News, said that "David will leave his post having built a strong foundation, created real momentum for [health information technology] adoption, charted a course for the meaningful use of [electronic health records] and launched a new phase of cooperative and supportive work with the health care community, states and cities across the nation."

Despite that progress, however, there has been no shortage of impediments to large-scale adoption, including the dearth of qualified health IT specialists, a lack of certified health IT products [which by the way is an artificial, government and industry lobby-created impediment; "certification" does not equal safe or effective; it's merely a hastily-evaluated features check - ed.], disruptions in work flow caused by the switch to electronic health records [which in large part remain mission hostile to clinical work - ed.] and the challenge of meeting "meaningful use" standards that trigger incentive payments.

I wish Dr. Blumenthal well. ONC Chair is not an easy role, as I'm sure his predecessors would confirm.

My final comment is that the last paragraph might be rearranged as follows:

... Despite the impediments to large scale adoption, however, there has been no shortage of irrational exuberance in the technology, nor progress in taking seriously the risks to patients. Many of the "impediments" are probably not surmountable at our present dearth of understanding of this experimental technology and its sociotechnical complexities, with many in government, medicine and the IT industry dismissing a growing body of "inconvenient" literature (such as here), and these same people and IT merchants ignoring those who do understand those issues (or worse, such as here).

-- SS